Director of the Core Curriculum at Le Moyne College
In a time when Liberal Arts in American higher education are on the defensive — squeezed between education’s increasing unaffordability and the demands by a stressed middle class to provide vocational training — it is tempting to retreat to a comfortable pessimism; to tend the fires of inquiry for the few prepared (and able to pay!) for it, while ceding the transformation of our colleges and universities in general into what the Germans call “Technische Hochschule”.
My decision to take on the directorship of Le Moyne’s brand-new core curriculum amounted to an effort to find an alternative to such retreat. As with my experiments with pedagogy (many of which have taken place as I begin to teach in the new core whose implementation I lead), I’ve discovered the fact that all the parts of education seem to move together: the increasing importance of the “the core” at my institution, where students vote with their feet toward a few, apparently “lucrative” fields of study for their majors, seems to have condemned the liberal arts to a second-class status. However, if the “core” becomes the self-conscious home for educators in “non-vocational” fields (like Philosophy!), that can create both new possibilities (for interdisciplinary cooperation and global vision) and new problems (will these scholars have no majors or minors? Will these diminish to “service” fields?). However, it’s also part of this recalibration of higher education, that an updated and relevant core may be able to attract students away from their original, defensive choices of major. At the very least, it may create a demand to minor in fields like literature, philosophy or cultural studies.
If Le Moyne’s new core curriculum is successful (and if I had any success in implementing it) the ground will have been prepared for some such back-flow from the pre-professional programs, which in “training,” students are not, on the whole, able “to educate” in a transformative manner as do the liberal arts. Courses that speak to today’s world, use the technologies and means of communication that dominate our discursive universe and start out from the fact of globalization can offer the maximum hope for a renewed flowering of the kind of inquiry that aims to transform the inquirer and not simply to inform her.
I should also mention another level of this re-calibration of learning in which Le Moyne’s new core participates. It may also be the case that the future for teaching in disciplines like Philosophy or English lies not so much in opposition to pre-professional programs (Business, Nursing, Accounting, etc., where I am) but in a persistent extension of questioning with which they are confronted. If allowed to take place entirely on the terrain with which they are comfortable (think, “Business Ethics”), such courses can remain narrow. However, the context of a Core Curriculum allows scholars from the Liberal Arts to set the terrain on which these meetings occur, and, as a result, it also opens possibilities for students beyond a future of uninspired employment.
Find out more about Le Moyne College’s Core Curriculum.